Interdisciplinary bachelor's degree programs in environmental fields combine science courses such as physics, engineering, biology, or ecology with law, ethics, or architecture courses. Due to this interdisciplinary nature, students have flexibility in focusing on specialty areas that appeal to them. Diverse majors are available, including: environmental science, design, engineering, and health.
Other program fields include environmental design, environmental engineering, and environmental health. Prerequisites for these programs usually include a high school diploma or GED as well as standardized test scores, with letters of recommendation and a personal statement sometimes being needed as well. Some environmental studies courses can also be found online.
Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Design
Environmental design programs include the study of many disciplines, such as architecture, urban planning, interior design, landscape architecture, and policy writing. Students examine problems that arise from building structures and planning cites, as well as issues that might occur within cultural, social, and ecological systems affected by those projects. Students learn to plan cities and buildings around the idea that natural, financial, and human resources are limited and must be managed appropriately.
Bachelor's degree programs in environmental design often offer specializations, such as urban design or city and regional planning; thus, coursework can vary greatly according to a student's individual course of study. Courses that make regular appearances in an environmental design curriculum include the following:
- History of architecture
- Environmental law and policy
- Environmental ethics
- Resource management
- Construction principles in urban planning
Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Engineering
Bachelor's degree programs in environmental engineering teach students to develop and manage the technology needed to provide and maintain healthy environments in which people can live. Such technology might be used to control pollution, facilitate waste management, design water treatment systems, or ameliorate the effects of industrial byproducts like car exhaust and acid rain. Environmental engineering programs are commonly found in civil or chemical engineering departments because these disciplines factor heavily into environmental engineering. Courses in these programs focus on solving specific problems while surveying past solutions. Thus, students can expect to learn about many different engineering models and technologies. Some courses common to environmental engineering programs include:
- Solid waste management
- Hazardous materials management
- Water supply and wastewater technology
- Environmental chemistry
Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Health
The study of environmental health is almost always paired with the study of occupational health and safety. Bachelor's degree programs in environmental health teach students to solve problems that may affect people's health in a negative way by controlling and evaluating environmental and occupational conditions. Areas of emphasis can include proper disposal of waste, quality of food and water, exposure to pollution and hazardous materials, safe housing, and the spread of rodent- or insect-born diseases. Most environmental health programs focus on human health principles and safety issues. Courses might include the following:
- Toxic chemicals and human health
- Principles of water and wastewater
- Food protection
- Solid waste management
- Hazardous materials management
Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Science
Bachelor's degree programs in environmental science arm students with the biology and chemistry know-how to tackle environmental issues, like climate change and natural resource management. They also emphasize current events and scientific research, as this field is growing rapidly and needs to be understood in the context of present-day social, political, cultural, and legal scenarios. Many environmental science majors choose to concurrently pursue a second degree to meet their career goals. For example, a student interested in creating new environmental technologies might double major in environmental science and physics or engineering. Coursework in environmental science programs can vary greatly depending on how a student customizes his or her program. However, the following courses typically are included in an undergraduate environmental science curriculum:
- Environmental law
- Environmental biology
- Survey of environmental problems
Popular Career Options
Graduates can pursue a variety of career paths, though a graduate degree and/or licensing may be required or preferred for some positions, such as environmental engineer. Employers of environmental scientists include government agencies, environmental technology organizations, advocacy groups, and academic institutions. Some titles a graduate of an undergraduate program in environmental science may hold include: environmental lawyer, green roofing professional, green architect, advocate, and solar energy engineer.
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
Graduates of bachelor's degree programs in environmental design most often find work as urban or regional planners. Employment for this profession was expected to grow by 6% between 2014 and 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). The median annual salary for urban and regional planners was $68,220 in May 2015.
The employment rate for environmental engineers was expected to increase 12% between 2014 and 2024, according to the BLS. Environmental engineers made a median annual salary of $84,560 in May 2015. The lowest-paid environmental engineers earned less than $50,230, while the highest-paid made upwards of $128,440.
Graduates with bachelor's degrees in environmental health often find careers as safety and occupational health specialists. The BLS predicted that the employment rate for this profession would increase 4% between 2014 and 2024, which was slower than average. In May 2015, the median annual salary for safety and occupational health specialists was $70,210.
Advanced study in environmental design is available at the master's and doctoral levels. Students often train in techniques that are useful for collaborating with local officials and legislators. Most programs offer internship or research opportunities aimed at acclimating students to professional urban planning environments.
Both master's and doctoral degrees are available in environmental engineering. Graduate students commonly focus on one area, like solid waste management, pollution control, or wastewater management. They participate in extensive research, usually with the aim of producing applicable technology that can be used to solve specific problems.
Graduate programs in environmental health and safety typically offer advanced training in occupational health, workplace safety, and environmental management. Professional training in these three areas, with an emphasis on research and technology, prepares graduates for leadership positions in the field.
Graduate study in environmental science typically focuses on original research addressing a current academic issue in the field. Most programs culminate in a thesis or dissertation.
Undergraduate students focusing on environmental studies will find several relevant bachelor's degree programs, often allowing them to specialize in the area of the field that most interests them. Graduates of these programs can seek employment in fields such as urban planning or safety/occupational health specialists, or pursue more advanced degrees in order to enter higher-level environmental careers.